With the Coalitions disastrous ‘Bedroom tax’ almost upon us, Sedgemoor Labour Group attempted today to put a motion to Full Council calling for the Government to drop the policy and think again. Sedgemoor Labour Group –the strongest in Somerset with 13 members representing 6 wards in Bridgwater , claimed the tax was ‘unworkable’ and would ‘hit the most vulnerable’ and asked the council to ‘use discretionary payments to make sure that families and people are not made homeless or forced into debt because of the bedroom tax’.
Labour Group leader Cllr Mick Lerry (Bridgwater Victoria) opened the debate saying “This Council will have to deal with the consequences of this punitive tax. The ‘under occupancy penalty’, does exactly what it is supposed to, it penalises. According to the government’s own figures, 63% of those penalised are disabled. Nearly one quarter of those penalised are lone parents.The Government has already made U-turns on this. People are facing large tax bills simply to continue living in their own homes. It’s a tax knowing that people are trapped and by a Government knowing that it will put people into hardship.”
Labour Councillor Leigh Redman (Bridgwater Dunwear) who is standing for Bridgwater South in the County Council election, supported the motion and seconded the amendment. “The National Housing Federation has calculated which constituencies will be hit hardest by penalties for under-occupation of social housing that come into force on 1 April. Under the under-occupation penalty, or ‘bedroom tax’, social housing tenants who are of working age and in receipt of housing benefit will have their payments cut if they have one or more spare bedrooms. Housing benefit will be cut by 14 per cent for one spare bedroom, and 25 per cent for two spare rooms.”
‘Estimated 700 tenants hit by this proposal’
“The Department for Work and Pensions has calculated 660,000 households across Britain will be affected by the policy, with an average reduction of £728 per year. The National Housing Federation has used the regional breakdown provided by the department of work and pensions to estimate the number of people who will be affected in each constituency. Although mid table Bridgwater and West Somerset would still see an estimated 700 tenants hit by this proposal!
The government says it is introducing the bedroom tax for three reasons – to move people from homes that are “too big” so people in overcrowded accommodation can have more space, to “balance the books” and to cut the cost of welfare.
“As we have heard the basic problem is that there aren’t homes for people to move to. As I have said in our area some 600 people will pay the bedroom tax but there are limited places they could move to. The government knows this and it shows how cynical it is – its calculation of savings assumes people don’t move, but do suffer a fall in income each week. This would leave most people with an impossibly small amount to live on. So we would have people in Sedgemoor who after essentials may be left with just £18 to live on each week.”
‘stand by our tenants’
“I must take this opportunity to congratulate and thank our hard working officers and staff who have been working hard to answer questions from our tenants locally, I know it is hard with a changing picture following the most recent government u-turns. Members I urge you to support this motion with the amendment and show we are not willing to stand by and not help our tenants but to use our discretionary payments to stop people being made homeless or forced into debt.”
The Labour motion drew some support from one Tory. Councillor David Baker (Bridgwater Wyndham) said “I will abstain on this motion because although this Government is supposed to support family life, this tax will do the opposite. The Government shouldn’t be taxing the first spare bedroom they should first look to the private sector !”
Lib Dems criticise Coalition policy
New Highbridge Lib Dem councillor Helen Groves at her first meeting (since election in January) and her fellow Lib Dem Kate Lawson (Burnham South) criticised their own Governments policy and supported the Labour motion. Cllr Groves said “I support this motion because of ethical considerations. None of us would want to see someone widowed tomorrow and immediately eligible for this tax. This is the situation that’s being created.”
Labour councillor after Labour councillor rose to condemn the bedroom tax.
‘wave of evictions’
Steve Austen (Bridgwater Hamp) said “I work in the social sector and I am aware of the scale of the affect this will have on single parents. When EDF arrives there will be a lack of properties available and a rise in private sector rents. The legal system is not prepared for the resulting wave of evictions”
Reg Winslow (Bridgwater Fairfax) said “These people are just victims of circumstances – they’ve done nothing wrong.”
Kath Pearce (Bridgwater Westover) said “This could force vulnerable families to take in unknown lodgers.”
‘lining the pockets of private landlords’
Julian Taylor (Bridgwater Eastover) said “The coalition claim to have been elected on the basis of fairness, equal opportunities and the principles of localism. This fails on all levels. It’s not local –it’s imposed from Westminster, it’s patently not fair and it’s not choice it’s a draconian enforcement’. Private landlords will be delighted by this. The average social housing is £80 a week yet the same housing in the private sector is £120 a week, we would be paying to line the pockets of private landlords”
Tory landlords stand by their profits
While most tories remained silently at their desks, some stood up for their profits. Cllr Mark Healey (Tory County Councillor for Huntspill, District councillor for Puriton) seemed to feel personally under attack as a private landlord himself. “Private landlords do a good job. We’re not all rogue landlords. We have to deal with the overspill from the public sector. I’m a responsible landlord and I set my rates accordingly. Increasingly private landlords are a very important part of the social housing situation.”
Tory leader Duncan McGinty (East Polden) tackled the motion head on “There is no such thing as a bedroom tax – this is a policy handed down by statute and we have to bring it in regardless of what we feel. There is no indication that all this doom and gloom is taking place. 21 people have agreed to be moved already. Rest assured we have a policy in place to cope with it.”
‘silent majority of hardline tories’
Labour,LibDems and independents combined in the vote but failed to win the amendment or the original motion as the silent majority of hardline Tories voted 20-15 to scupper this last chance to question this potentially devastating tax.
As protests against the tax spread and an easter weekend of discontent looms the national picture is divided. Tory penaliser in chief Iain Duncan Smith said “ We have in social sector housing, a very large number of people in houses where they have many more bedrooms than they actually need. What we’re saying to them is you can stay where you are, but if you do you’ll have to pay more.”
Labour’s Jack Dromey said “David Cameron and George Osborne have no idea to have to count every penny of their income to survive.”